Festool Carvex 420 Jigsaw - Review
We've been waiting on the Festool Carvex for a while...maybe almost three years since we first heard about it. We got a chance to play with one at the JLC show a few years back and at the time it seemed like the jigsaw that would solve all of our jigsaw problems (accuracy, straight cuts, tight scrolls, etc). Then we heard that its release was delayed...and it disappeared for a while...but now it's here. When Festool offered to send us one to check out, we hopped at the opportunity. This one looks like it has it all. And as it turns out, it does have it all. But only if "all" includes a functionality problem that unfortunately cancels out much of the good that it has to offer and makes it a tool we can't recommend. A real and total bummer.
We'll start with the good. And there is a lot of good. The high point to us is the strobe that flickers on the blade. The four LEDs are actually timed to the blade stroke so they give the impression that the blade is standing still. Without a blurry blade, the accuracy that this tool can attain is pretty well off the charts, at least compared to all of the other jigsaws we've used.
The handling is great too. As is always the case, Festool delivers a solid tool that may be a little larger than some of the others and maybe a little heavier, but it just has that heft of quality. The metal parts, the ease of the switch, and the way the adjustments turn, click, or move all indicate a level of standards that is uncommon in the tool industry.
There are also the little Festool touches like the extremely nice dust extraction and the cord that can hinge up at the butt-end of the tool giving you just a little more room in those tight spaces.
Available for the tool are three main footplates (Festool also sent us the accessory kit); the standard fixed base (the only one that comes with the tool); a base compatible with their track system; and the one that's hinged in the center for angled cuts. The pad area of the fixed base can be swapped out with a variety of pieces that are designed for specific surfaces and applications. The fixed base cannot bevel from side to side and the hinged base can only bevel from the center point. And this is where the wheels start to come off...
The available footplate configurations present what we feel is a fatal flaw to the tool. One that makes it, in our opinion, nearly unusable as a jigsaw. Basically, the Carvex cannot back-cut a scribe. The 'wings' of the hinged base move in unison: they're either both heading upward, or both heading downward. This is great if you're trying to ride the saw long the end of a board cutting a 45 degree miter at the leading edge, but what if you want that miter to be 1/2-inch in from the edge of the board....or 1/4-inch in? You can't do it. And that to us is insane.
It sorta looks like a waddling penguin
When I say "back-cut a scribe," what I mean is this. As a carpenter installing something like baseboard, chair-rail, or a cabinet face frame, if I'm installing against an uneven surface, like an old (or new) plaster wall, I'm going to scribe the piece in for a tight fit. What I do, and what every carpenter I've ever met does, is put a little back bevel on the cut. That way a thinner piece of the material is touching the wall, reducing the unevenness that I have to deal with. It also makes it very easy for me to fine tune the scribe with a block plane. I can just make the one cut with the jigsaw that is 99% there and then clean up any proud spots while I'm installing it.
The funky footplates of the Carvex prohibit this common task from taking place. Because the wings of the beveling footplate move together, you can only rest the saw on the 'away' side of the cut...where, in my baseboard situation, there is nothing to support it. I took some pictures to better explain.
Here is a Bosch saw making a back-cut like I'm describing. Notice how much of the footplate is resting on the workpiece, ensuring stability and a nice, crisp, even cut.
Here is the Carvex, dropped into the same blade channel (I didn't even bother make a new cut with the saw because it can't do it). Look at how the saw is supported against the workpiece...yeah, right....it's not. Huh?
And this is a problem. It's a big problem. A massive, crazy-assed, wtf problem. Back-cutting scribes is why I own a jigsaw in the first place. It's basically all I do with the tool. Imagine if someone released an orbital sander that wasn't compatible with 60, 80, or 100 grit sandpaper. It's sort of like that. I think it's cool that Festool came up with this neat footplate system and in theory the hinged one is a real winner, but to have all of this pizazz at the expense of one of the most basic tasks of a jigsaw is baffling. This is not some esoteric, once-in-a-lifetime cut we're trying to make. It's a simple controlled bevel along the edge of a board. That the Carvex can't do this is absolutely bonkers.
We contacted Festool and described what we were trying to do to see if we were missing something and they told us that the Collins coping foot was the way to go (even though there isn't one available yet that is compatible with the Carvex...so there's that). That's fine for the butt end of a piece of crown molding, but not a long scribe on a baseboard. Plus, the coping foot doesn't provide a flat surface for the tool to ride against, so there's not going to be any accuracy in the bevel angle.
But, we discovered, it is possible to make this cut...but it's tricky. If you cut from the underside of the board, you can do it. It's a very awkward proposition and there's still no guaranteed success. Because of the funky bevel footplate, it's extremely difficult to hold the saw and keep the functional half of the footplate flat against the board. Remember, you're holding the saw under the board, beveled away from you while trying to keep the blade accurate on your line. No problems, right?
Like I said, the hinged footplate is cool and before we used the tool, we were awed by it. But now that we think about it (and add to that the fact that we're a little jaded by the Carvex's lack of basic functionality), we can't think of any occasions where that footplate would come in handy. Maybe for a woodworker, but not a carpenter. Is it often that you need to cut a 45 along an inside corner?
The Carvex is $350. Which is waaaay more than most jigsaws out there. And that's doesn't even include a beveling footplate at all, just the flat one. You can pick up a basic/good jigsaw for around $80 and the higher end ones sit around $150. If the Carvex could handle the ground floor tasks, the amazing build-quality of the tool would make it well worth the money, but it can't, so it isn't.
It's a real bummer that a tool this nice has such a gaping hole in it. But here, it's sadly the case.
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Posted by Doug Mahoney at September 3, 2013 9:50 PM